This Sunday’s first reading from the prophet Ezekiel reminds the prophet that he has been appointed watchman for the House of Israel. What exactly does this mean, and how does it apply to us today?
The Hebrew word tsaphah has a variety of meanings which provide some context for the sense of the word’s usage in the spiritual life. It can be translated “to look out or about, spy, keep watch”.
The New American Bible translates this word as “sentinel” which gives it a sense of urgency. The role and place of a sentinel is critical in battle, for the sentinel provides advance notice of threats that could harm or even destroy the army.
So how does this word apply in the sense it is used for Ezekiel? If we consider that greater than any physical threat is the spiritual threat we face from the Evil One, the spiritual watchman or the spiritual sentinel is even more important than a sentinel that protects us from a physical threat.
We all have had the experience, I think, that larger spiritual problems stem from smaller spiritual problems that we do not address. The type of selfishness that comes from embezzling money from an organization probably began with taking small things that were not easily noticed. When these small things became no big deal, then it became easier and easier to steal larger things.
And rather than identify the spiritual risk, we can seek to explain it away. Someone who steals money might be convinced that the owner did not need the money anyway. The most important part of identifying the spiritual risk is seeking to discover what elements of our lives are spiritually risky.
Who are the reliable sentinels we can trust? In a time where people seem to be constantly fighting with each other, it is not easy to see. But it does seem to me that there are important qualities of good sentinels. So how can we become a good sentinel?
First, a good sentinel is one who is very attentive to how they live their own life. How often do we think about how we live our lives? Do we reflect on our behavior? The process of conducting an examen, or an examination of conscience each day is a good spiritual practice. It helps us discover the place and presence of God in our lives.
Second, it seems a good sentinel would be a person who puts themselves in a place where they are likely to encounter the presence of God. Do we, in our lives, give great attention to the sacraments? To prayer? Do we pray with the word of God?
Third, a good sentinel demonstrates genuine care for others. A good sentinel is concerned for the well-being of everyone, not just those liked. Today’s gospel tells us that love is the fulfillment of the law. And Saint Paul encourages us to realize is that what we owe one another, what we owe our neighbor, is love. A good sentinel imitates the commander, in our case, the Lord Jesus, in action, thoughts, and attitudes.
Lastly, it seems a good sentinel is one who is able to see clearly what is good and what is not. How readily do we look for the holy presence of God in our daily lives? How well do we seek to know Jesus? For if we do not know Jesus well, we might not recognize the ways he comes into our lives.